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Entering intersection for left turn confusing to many

December 4, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

You are approaching an intersection controlled by a traffic light that is showing green and you want to turn left at this intersection. However, there is a string of vehicles coming toward you. Question, are you allowed to enter the intersection and wait for a break in oncoming traffic or must you wait at the stop bar (the white line that tells you where to stop at an intersection)?

The answer to the above question is yes. Under vehicle and traffic law in New York state, it is permissible to enter the intersection if the light is green and no other vehicles ahead of you is preparing for a left turn. But, you ask, what happens if the light changes to red before there is a break in traffic and I am stuck in the middle of the intersection?

Answer, still no problem. Again, under vehicle and traffic law, all other traffic must yield the right of way to a vehicle that is already in the intersection (your vehicle).

At this point, the traffic signal will be red for your street and the cross street, the one you want to turn onto, receives a green light. But, because all traffic must yield to a vehicle already in the intersection, you may now complete your left turn.

Here's a word of caution. At many intersections, there is a yellow sign with black lettering placed next to the traffic signal that states: "Oncoming traffic may have extended green." In these cases, don't assume that just because the signal facing your direction changes to red that oncoming traffic also faces a red light. They may have an extended green.

In the case of downtown Malone, at the intersections of East Main Street and Elm Street and East Main Street and Pearl Street, the sign states: "Oncoming Traffic Has Extended Green."

At these two signals, oncoming traffic does indeed have a green light after yours changes to red. This is because of a clearance timing phase between Elm and Pearl. An example of where an understanding of this is important is if you were going east on East Main Street and wanted to turn left onto Elm Street. Even if you don't have the green arrow, you have the right to enter the intersection and wait for a break in oncoming traffic or until that light is completely red for both directions of Main Street. In this case, eastbound Main Street gets a red light first, and you must wait several seconds before westbound Main Street gets a red. A helpful bit of advice here is to watch the eastbound signal at Pearl Street, and when that turns red, westbound traffic at Elm Street will also get a red at the same time.

Although entering an intersection to make a left turn while oncoming traffic is approaching you, it is legal under vehicle and traffic law to do so, although it is not mandatory. If you are not comfortable in doing so, wait for the next light cycle.

For more articles on vehicle and traffic law and safety, visit the Traffic Safety Board website at


Dave Werner can be reached at



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